The Heart Attack Risk Factor Millions Deal With Every Night

Amy Capetta

Plus, three key tips to fix it. (Photo: Getty Images)

It’s no secret that sleep is a basic function that plays a vital role in overall health and well-being. However, new research presented at EuroHeartCare 2015 says poor sleep is linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Researchers at the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences chronicled the sleep habits of 657 men between ages 25 and 64 for a 14-year period. None of the participants had a history of heart attack, stroke, or diabetes; the study experts wanted to investigate the possible long-term effects of sleep issues and the risk of developing a heart attack or stroke later in life.

Over the course of the trial, 63 percent of the men who had suffered a heart attack were also categorized as having a sleep disorder (ratings of “very bad,” “bad,” or “poor” sleep were considered a sleep disorder). During the follow-up period, which took place between five and 14 years, it was discovered that men with a sleep disorder were about twice as likely (2 to 2.6 times) to be at risk of myocardial infarction (aka, a heart attack) and up to four times more likely to be at risk of stroke.

“Poor sleep should be considered a modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease, along with smoking, lack of exercise, and poor diet,” said professor Valery Gafarov in a formal statement. “Guidelines should add sleep as a risk factor to recommendations for preventing cardiovascular disease.”

Related: The Breathing Trick That Puts You to Sleep in Seconds

Michael Breus, PhD, a board-certified sleep specialist with a private practice in Scottsdale, Ariz., tells Yahoo Health that he completely agrees with these findings. “We have known for years that sleep is a basic tenet of health and wellness, and this study helps supply direct evidence of a relationship to both myocardial infarction and stroke — the two largest killers,” says Breus, who was not involved with the research. “Poor sleep can be measured in either quality or quantity or both, and either can lead to these serious consequences.”

According to a recent poll from the National Sleep Foundation, almost half of Americans (45 percent) claimed they had dealt with poor or insufficient sleep at least once during the week the survey was conducted. And while Americans reported good sleep quantity — an average of 7 hours and 36 minutes of shuteye per night — 35 percent rated their sleep quality as either “poor” or “only fair.”

Related: What Causes Sleep Sweating?

If inadequate sleep is interfering with your everyday life, Breus recommends following these sleep hygiene techniques:

  • Stick to a sleep schedule both during the week and on the weekends.

  • Cut off caffeine by 2 p.m. (since this stimulant can remain in the system for up to eight hours), finish exercise at least four hours before bedtime, and stop the consumption of alcohol three hours before hitting the sheets. (“While alcohol can make you feel sleepy, it keeps you out of the deep stages of sleep.”)

  • Expose yourself to 15 minutes of natural sunlight each morning. (“This helps reset your biological clock, which keeps your sleep schedule on track.”)

If you have concerns about your sleep quality and quantity, Breus also strongly advises speaking with your primary care physician. “Your doctor may discover that you need a sleep study or need to seek treatment from a sleep specialist,” he says.

In the concluding statements of the press release, Gafarov added: “Our previous research showed that sleeping disorders are very closely connected with depression, anxiety, and hostility, so speaking with a psychologist may also help.”

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